It’s tough in the trough

Gartner’s Hype Cycle charts the journey of new technology through five stages of development, from inception to production and, potentially, adoption. Gartner names the five phases Innovation Trigger, Peak of Inflated Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment, Slope of Enlightenment and Plateau of Productivity.

In the third part of an Insights series about the cycle, we investigate the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ – when overhyped technology fails to live up to its name and interest begins to wane.

Sep 19th 2017 

Oh the pain of the one hit wonder. But imagine the misery of the ‘none hit wonder’, when wall-to-wall coverage, hype and public interest dwindles to absolutely nothing. 

Such is the plight of technology that lands in the Trough of Disillusionment on the Gartner Hype Cycle. Despite lots of excitement, fate steps in to produce tech hits that never were.

The power of market forces

In Don’t believe the hype: the downside of being the next big thing, Guardian writer Sean Hargrave uses startup Sup to illustrate the negative impact too much attention can have on a burgeoning enterprise; one that failed so quickly it didn’t even touch down in the Trough of Disillusionment.

“[Founder] Rich Pleeth knows too well what it is like to be the toast of an industry one minute and making some very tough decisions the next,” writes Hargrave. “His app, called Sup, designed to help people locate nearby friends, quickly attracted the interest of investors, including the founders of Innocent. There was just one problem with all the hype; the industry around him was saying one thing, the market another. Pleeth took the decision to shut down.”

The shock of the fall

Sup’s meteoric rise and fall isn’t quite reflected in the prescriptive curves of the Hype Cycle, but it’s another story with cryptocurrency-enabling technology, blockchain. In 2016, Gartner placed it in the Peak of Inflated Expectations phase. However, in Growing scepticism challenges the blockchain hype, Financial Times journalist Izabella Kaminska argues it is ready to plummet into the depths of the Trough.

Kaminska writes, “Exhibit A: the suddenly diminished use of the term ‘blockchain’ in the marketing of many of these ventures. The latest vogue is for distributed ledger technology (DLT) or shared permissioned databases. The linguistic pivot reflects an industry-wide realisation that blockchain has to be adapted for the real world…By now almost all blockchain ventures have absolutely nothing to do with blockchain as it was originally described or used in bitcoin. Exhibit B: the realisation that getting competing companies to co-operate on data sharing and storage is hard.”

Who's next for the drop?

Clearly the Hype Cycle isn’t an exact science, and the Trough of Disillusionment demonstrates this more than any other phase. Consider the breadth of technology thought to reside there. In AI heading back to the trough, Network World writer Dave Michels contends Artificial Intelligence is stuck in the Trough.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) has arguably been in the trough for 60 years…That’s a long trough, and despite popular opinion, the end is nowhere in sight,” writes Michels. “…AI will definitely change the world, but just don’t hold your breath, at least not regarding general purpose AI.”

In The Rise and Fall of IOT, ITWeb writer Masindi Mabogo predicts the imminent downfall of the Internet of Things (IoT).

“I expect IoT to slide down the slope of the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’, and quickly, due to possibilities of other technology fusion in crafting new products,” he writes.

It's not the death knell

If blockchain, AI and the IoT are in the Trough, is it really that big a deal? Insights spoke to Che Smith, founder of technology and innovation consultancy thinkfortytwo. He points out that, contrary to appearances, the Hype Cycle is rather nuanced.

“The cycle doesn’t take into account the readiness certain technologies have for different markets,” says Che. “I think with Augmented Reality (AR) the explosion of something like Pokémon GO and other gaming technologies have made it jump out of the Trough from a personal user perspective. But from a B2B perspective the lack of progress around public sector, specifically use in education, advertising and smart city, I would say it is right to be in the 2016 Trough.”

Che also points out that a stint in the Trough isn’t necessarily negative, but can be a transformative with inherent but useful challenges.

He says, “The Trough has negative connotations, but to a select group of optimistic innovators it is a challenge, a necessary step to greatness. It’s not a death knell for a technology. It can sometimes be a holding area until the market place is ready.”

When the Trough is finally vacated, the Slope of Enlightenment awaits. And we’ll be taking to the Slope in the fourth part of the series.

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